My Cousin Rachel

By Debruge, Peter | Variety, June 6, 2017 | Go to article overview

My Cousin Rachel


Debruge, Peter, Variety


My Cousin Rachel

Director: Roger Michell

Starring: Rachel Weisz, Sam Claflin

The words "Your reputation precedes you" may as well have been coined with "My Cousin Rachel" in mind: From the title of Daphne du Maurier's novel, which stirs an air of fevered anticipation around a character that doesn't actually make her entrance until more than 20 minutes into the story, to the wild rumors swirling around her early on - that she's a sex fiend, a murderess and maybe even a witch - "My Cousin Rachel" encourages us to jump to conclusions before using its tricksy ways to call all those hasty half-truths into question.

Du Maurier's novel was adapted for the big screen once before, with Olivia de Havilland in the title role, though the enigmatic antiheroine has never been as seductive, cunning or deliciously ambiguous as she is in the hands of Rachel Weisz, who steps into a character practically overshadowed by others' idea of her and unlocks more hidden dimensions than we might have thought possible. It was Richard Burton's Philip whom Rachel seduced in the 1952 version; the update offers a shirtless, stubble-bearded Sam Claflin (Finnick O'Dair in the "Hunger Games" franchise) in his place, all but ensuring that Weisz dominates the picture.

Female characters are seldom allowed to loom so large, and "My Cousin Rachel" reminds what a delight it can be when they do - which surely explains why Fox thought to update this classic title, whose overripe 1952 sensibility (with its gothic sets, silvery cinematography and wallto-wall score) leaves the novel open for a refresh. Even if this Searchlight-backed production is bound to have a relatively short shelf life, it makes for a smart summer counterprogrammer in the hands of "Notting Hill" director Roger Michell.

While "Wonder Woman" wows the fanboys, art-house crowds have their own mysterious lady to marvel at.

Until Rachel's arrival, the Ashley estate - an atmospheric stretch of green-gray marshes and moors along the coast of Cornwall, England, given texture through Rael Jones' hypnotically repetitive piano score - is a nearly all-male domain. As a boy, Claflin's orphaned Philip was raised there by his far older cousin, Ambrose, who falls ill at one point and ships off to warmer climes. While Ambrose is recovering in Florence, Italy, Philip starts to feel like the man of the manor, which he's positioned to inherit when Ambrose dies. But then a series of strange letters starts to arrive, first announcing how Ambrose has fallen in love and plans to get married, and then referring to his wife as "Rachel, my torment" and insisting Philip come quickly to his side.

At this point, the only love young Philip has ever known is the one he feels toward his guardian, and now, flushed with concern, he travels to the sunshine of Florence to find Ambrose dead and Rachel gone. …

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